How Freightliner turned its trucker customers into a trucker community

Credit: jakebwotha via Flickr

Freightliner Trucks knew a lot about truckers – their needs, their preferences, their concerns, and the pressures they face in an industry increasingly complicated by regulations and decreasing margins.

But what the largest division of Daimler Trucks North America didn’t have was an effective way to connect with their customers.

It had something, a free online “club” called The Edge that launched in March 2011, but never really took off.

“The positioning was all wrong,” says Robert Bean, interactive media director for Burns Marketing. “[Freightliner] did what a lot of organizations do. They said, ‘Hey, we need a community for our drivers. Let’s implement some software and put it out there and hope it works.’”

It didn’t.

“Most of what was there was a lot of links to other sites, and it just wasn’t valuable when you compare it to a news site, or Facebook or other places where you get great information,” Bean says.

So Freightliner early last year called on the talents of ATBS, Burns Marketing and Kentico Software to start over and build a content platform that emphasized social networking and interactivity, key elements of a modern business strategy, but especially critical when targeting an audience frequently isolated by travel and eager for a sense of connection during long stretches away from home.

Creating their “own Facebook” has become a common strategy at enterprises as they've realized that the best social platform for sharing, collaborating and informing is one people are going to use. And that means combining quality content within a familiar, intuitive, and interactive format.

Freightliner tapped long-term partner Denver-based ATBS, the largest business service provider for owner-operators in the U.S., to develop a content strategy to go with their social media platform. By last August, The Edge was dead and Team Run Smart was launched.

The site’s content is divided into sections around the topics uppermost in the minds of truckers – maximizing fuel economy (FUEL Smart), running a company (BUSINESS Smart), maintaining their vehicle (TRUCK Smart), and living healthily on the road (HEALTH Smart). There are even videos about topics such as “Top 10 Coffee Alternatives.”

But it’s Team Run Smart’s “community” section that is the driving force behind Freightliner’s online branding strategy. This is where truckers and their spouses and family members get to share tips, information, complaints, and stories about life on the road.

Typical forum topics include the worst cities in the U.S. to drive in (Pittsburgh, NYC, Miami, Tampa, and LA all made the list), winterizing your truck, the most comfortable Bluetooth headsets, and favorite apps for the road.

Henry Albert, a veteran driver and owner of Albert Transport, based in North Carolina, is a community member as well as a longtime blogger. Albert says even an experienced trucking veteran such as himself gets some valuable insights from other members of the Team Run Smart community.

“There’s interaction on the forum that makes you think of things differently than you used to,” he says. Not only does the community section of the site “become a conduit of information,” Albert says, it enables users to cement relationships.

“People I interact with at shows now are participating on the site,” he says.

Team Run Smart also includes another staple of social networks – gamification. Members can earn “miles” by finishing various activities and then be awarded badges for hitting certain benchmarks.

In the seven months or so since launching, Team Run Smart has attracted more than 3,000 members to its online community, with about 200 members joining each week.

Bean says this shows that the social media strategy designed to drive community and support around the Freightliner brand – by combining the business and the personal in a familiar environment -- is paying off.

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